Tuesday, 28 June 2016
Special Educational Needs Service Provision
I will give the Minister of State a brief synopsis of this matter. The Holy Angels Day Care Centre opened in Carlow in 1978 in the basement of Carlow's old district hospital by a Presentation nun, Sister Columba. She was given a cheque for £100 from the south east health board and with the names of five children with special needs from the local area, Holy Angels was set up to provide a day care service for children with special needs of preschool age, that is, those aged from 18 months to six years of age. In 1983, a new site was bought in Straw Hall at a cost of £52,000, on which prefabs were erected.In 2005, a needs assessment was carried out and the school was told that the current site would not allow for expansion due to the number of children being looked after. In 2007, the Holy Angels received a donation of a site from a businessman in Carlow. Following that, the HSE assigned a design team to have plans drawn up. In 2011, the HSE told the Holy Angels it could go to tender but in 2012, the HSE came back and advised that the Holy Angels could not have this until the site was in its name. This was the first we had heard of that. The site had been given, everything was going ahead and it was at the design stage. We then met with the then Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, in Carlow. He said that he could not believe this and that the HSE, as far as he was aware, did not need to have the site in its name before progressing.
It is now 2016. There are 35 children in the Holy Angels, ranging from 18 months up to six years of age. There is a waiting list of 20-plus. In addition, the roof is leaking, the doors need to be fixed and the floor needs to be replaced. The school has been waiting 11 years for capital funding for a new school. It has been overlooked for years and is now at the stage where it cannot expand or take in the children who need to attend the school. It is 38 years since the school opened and it has gone from the basement of an old school to prefabs and it is still in prefabs. This is 2016 and there are children with a disability, the most vulnerable in our society, still in prefabs. I wanted to give the Minister of State a rough idea of how the Holy Angels started as this is just not good enough.
The Holy Angels has a great manager and staff and a great fundraising committee, which has been fundraising to help with the building of the new school. Some €4 million is what it is looking for. As I said, the site has been donated and the school has been given several commitments that it will be given this €4 million to build a new school but it has not happened. It is unacceptable that again Carlow is totally forgotten. We have a school, or prefabs, with a leaking roof and floors in need of replacement. It is absolutely appalling that young children and babies are still in prefabs. I will bring this up every month because this cannot be allowed to happen in this day and age. I am ashamed to say that 38 years on, no funding has been given to this preschool. It is unacceptable.
I am sure Tír na nÓg has been in contact with the Minister of State too. It is a respite centre. I will give the Minister of State a rough synopsis of this as well.
To give a rough outline, Tír na nÓg was set up in 2005. It is a respite service for the children of Carlow and was opened for 11 years. It first opened with ten children and then it had 42 children attending it. It was a weekend service with a waiting list of 30 or so. It was closed by the HSE in December 2015 and because of the need for the service, a weekend one was put in place but with no overnights, just some half days. We are now asking the Minister of State to have this respite centre opened. A new site was donated, again by a businessman. It will only cost €350,000 to build this respite centre. Again, we were given the go-ahead from the HSE to get plans drawn up.
The Holy Angels is in dire need of a new school and Tír na nÓg respite centre has closed, with only €350,000 needed to build a new respite centre. Approximately 60 children are looking to attend it, so this is not good enough. I ask the Minister of State to consider this and come back to me.
I thank Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor for her question and congratulate her on being elected to the Seanad. I wish her well in the future.I will outline my initial reaction when I heard about this. It is not acceptable to wait 11 years for capital funding and to have children with disabilities in prefabs. There seems to be some confusion about the figures. The Senator spoke about €4 million and then about €350,000 for Tír na nÓg.
I will cover all of the major issues in my response.
Again, I thank the Senator for raising the issue of the funding needed to reopen the Tír na nÓg respite centre in Carlow which was closed in December 2015. I welcome the opportunity to outline the current position in regard to this matter. Holy Angels day care centre is a disability agency that provides services, including a preschool service, for children with disabilities in Carlow. The facility is funded on an annual basis by the HSE under section 39 of the Health Act. In 2015, it received funding in the region of €720,000.
As the Senator said, respite services for children in Carlow were previously provided by Tír na nÓg in Carlow. In December 2015, the Holy Angels day care centre advised HIQA and the HSE of the decision of the board of management to close the centre from January 2016 after it received notice from the landlord. On 16 December 2015, the HSE disability services manager wrote to the Holy Angels day care requesting Holy Angels to develop a plan regarding an alternative approach to respite service provision to be completed in consultation with families in receipt of respite and notifying them of the discontinuation of the existing respite service due to lack of premises. The families were also informed that they would be invited to meetings in January 2016 in regard to these respite services.
Tír na nÓg provided respite breaks to 42 children and their families with each client being offered a one to two-night respite break every three months, with the current service open six nights per month. The children range in age from 18 months to 18 years and have a wide range of disabilities from mild to severe. There are additional children on the waiting list. In March 2016, in order to address the current respite provision requirements, an alternative respite provision was set up in partnership with the HSE and Holy Angels and is currently provided, via the Holy Angels, at the Delta centre as an interim arrangement.
The HSE estates unit is actively - I stress the word "actively" - seeking to purchase or rent suitable accommodation for future service provision. It was decided that should the HSE find a suitable residence for respite in either counties Carlow or Kilkenny that services will be provided for both Carlow and Kilkenny from that location until purpose-built accommodation is completed.
The long-term intention of the HSE is to develop a new purpose-built respite service for County Carlow. With this intention in mind, a capital submission was sent to the HSE's capital steering committee in respect of Carlow. The capital steering committee considered the submission on 8 March 2016. There was a problem with the submission because the €20 million available for capital funding in 2016 was targeted and changed to supporting situations that dealt with congregated settings, which is the HSE's priority at the moment and is something that I have pushed personally.
The HSE met the families in Carlow to receive feedback and hear their opinion on the development of a future respite service. This feedback has been incorporated into the specifications that will be used in the process to put in place a new service provider of children's respite care in Carlow. With these specifications, the HSE has committed to the provision of an overnight respite service for children in Carlow.
Yes. I welcome the Minister of State's response but I think we are both suffering from a bit of confusion. The respite service was closed in December 2015 because it was in a private house in a housing estate and the house required improvement works, such as changing the doors, in order to comply with HIQA standards. That is a reason it closed. The facility had great staff. The children who availed of the service miss staying overnight in the facility and they need that option. The Minister of State did not give me any information in his reply.Is there any timescale? What is going to happen? When is the overnight situation going to be looked at? Is the Minister going to look at the site that has been given? Is the €350,000 coming out of capital projects? Are we getting the money? I do not want to be negative here but I represent Holy Angels as well, which is part of Tír na nÓg. We have spent 38 years in basements and prefabs and it is not acceptable. I do not want to be here again next year asking the Minister where the €350,000 is for us to build Tír na nÓg. We and the children need it so I ask the Minister to come back to me with the answers as to where the funding is that was committed to Holy Angels, as well as the €350,000 committed to Tír na nÓg.
I agree in respect of the broader issue. The Senator asked very important questions on HIQA and the house being closed. The overnight service was an excellent service. I can give her a commitment that I will go back and look again at the issue of the site. She also asked about the €350,000 and the answer is "Yes, absolutely." My role as Minister of State with special responsibilities for disabilities is to find out where this money has gone and why it is not being used for services for people with disabilities. There have been major cuts in the past seven years and the first thing I did when I took over as Minister of State some six weeks ago was to put out the fires of crisis in our services. I have immediately targeted the 1,500 school leavers who come out at 18 and have no service at all. I accept the Senator's point that respite, residential and day services also have to be a priority. I will come back to her on her specific questions.